Ear mites are very small inhabitants of the skin and ear in cats and dogs. They also occasionally affect other species, including humans and ferrets. The mites are well-adapted parasites that feed on skin surface debris and fluids, and have an affinity for inhabiting ear canals. In this location, they may cause tremendous inflammation and discomfort as well as a “coffee grounds” exudates, particularly in cats. On the rest of the body, they rarely cause a problem although they may occasionally cause itching. These mites are highly contagious among animals, in particular young cats.
Ear mites may be seen in some cases by direct examination with a magnifying instrument called an otoscope. In most cases, we diagnose ear mites by examining material, removed from the pet’s ear, under a microscope. The parasites are not always easy to find.
The treatment for ear mites depends somewhat on the severity of the symptoms. Ear medications with an anti-inflammatory property are often prescribed to reduce the discomfort in some pets. If copious debris is present, ear cleaning may be necessary. Specific anti-parasitic treatments are needed to kill the mites. Since the mites can live far from the ears, a treatment that is able to kill the mites on the entire body is usually needed. Also, since in-contact animals may harbour the mites without showing symptoms, all pets in the household should be treated. Treatment of the home environment with products used for flea control is an effective way to kill those mites remaining off the animal. Mites in the environment can live for 3 weeks or even longer.